Sunday, January 08, 2006

Turkey Mulls Charges Against Pro-Kurdish Mayors

DIYARBAKIR, (Northern Kurdistan), Reuters- Jan 2: More than 50 mayors in southeast Turkey could face criminal charges after sending a letter to Denmark's prime minister urging him not to shut down a pro-Kurdish television station, officials said today.
Turkey says Copenhagen-based Roj TV is a mouthpiece for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), blamed by Ankara for the deaths of more than 30,000 people since it began an armed campaign for a Kurdish homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
In their letter, 56 mayors urged Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to resist pressure from Ankara to close down Roj TV, saying it would hurt the needs of their people for Kurdish language broadcasting.
''The chief prosecutor's office will decide whether to launch an investigation after examining the full letter,'' an official told Reuters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey's southeast.
''If a crime is found to have been committed, an investigation will be opened against the mayors for making propaganda on behalf of an illegal organisation and for praising the crime and the criminal,'' the official said.
The move comes just days after Turkey, in line with commitments made to the European Union which it aims to join, gave the green light to private television and radio stations to broadcast in minority languages including Kurdish.
The broadcasts are scheduled to begin this month, but the issue of boosting minority languages remains politically sensitive in Turkey, a highly centralised state which once denied the very existence of a separate Kurdish language.
Many Turks fear bolstering the Kurdish identity will embolden the PKK and lead to the break-up of their country.
Last November, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily boycotted a news conference he was due to attend in Copenhagen with his Danish counterpart Anders Fogh Rasmussen in protest over the presence of a Roj TV journalist at the gathering.
Rasmussen argued that excluding the correspondent would have violated European principles of free speech.
In their letter, the mayors, who include Diyarbakir's Osman Baydemir, said: ''Unfortunately we see that there are still fundamental differences between Turkey and European civilisation over freedom of the press and of expression.'' ''Closing Roj TV will not contribute to our efforts towards building a truly pluralist and democratic life in Turkey.'' Turkey began EU entry talks last October. It has overhauled much of its legislation to meet EU demands on human rights but the EU says much more remains to be done, especially in the field of protecting minorities such as the Kurds.
Kurdish is an Indo-European language unrelated to Turkish, though it contains many Turkish words. There are at least 12 (20) million Kurds in Turkey, in a total population of 72 million.